Kahnawake students honour Mohawk veterans with handmade wreaths and poppies

Kateri School marks Aboriginal Veterans Day by inviting members of the Royal Canadian Legion's Mohawk branch 219 to speak to their students.

Day at Kateri School emotional for Mohawk Legion branch members

Each grade at Kateri School presented homemade wreaths, artwork and poems to veterans in their community. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Showing appreciation to veterans is a long standing tradition at Kateri Tekakwitha School in Kahnawake around Remembrance Day.

The elementary school in the community on the south shore of Montreal presented dozens of homemade wreaths and poppies to members of the Royal Canadian Legion's Mohawk branch 219 on Thursday to mark Aboriginal Veterans Day.

"It meant a lot to me when the veterans came because they've sacrificed a lot and I'm just happy to see them," said Grade 6 student Jayce Canadian.

Remembrance Day activities have been a longstanding tradition at Kateri School. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

It was also a special day for Grade 6 student Daisy Paul, whose father Darren Paul was in attendance. He served in the United States Marine Corps from 2001-2007 and completed one western Pacific deployment and two combat tours of Iraq.

"In my case November is always hard," said Darren Paul.

"This month marks the 14th anniversary of the Battle of Fallujah. I lost quite a few brothers in that fight, so to be a part of these ceremonies is always emotional. Seeing the work that these kids put into it is heartwarming and at the same time, remembering your brothers, I came close to tearing up a few times."

Meeting veterans in the community

The annual event is organized by teaching assistant Laurie Montour, Her brother Eugene served in the United States military for many years and was deployed to Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.

Laurie Montour, right, is a teaching assistant at Kateri School. Her brother, Eugene, served in the United States military for many years. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

"I think it's important that our students know that we have veterans in our community and the sacrifices that they have gone through," said Montour.

"Some of them went away and didn't come back. Luckily my brother did come back and most of our veterans did come home."

For Ray Deer, president of the Royal Canadian Legion's Mohawk branch 219, the event is one of his favourites among the many Remembrance Day activities the branch is invited to attend.

Ray Deer, president of the Royal Canadian Legion's Mohawk branch 219, said the annual event at Kateri School is special and heartfelt. (Charles Constant/Radio-Canada)

"Many of us went to school here; we're coming back and it's a little bit haunting," said Deer, who served with the Royal Montreal Regiment and U.S. army. 

"Coming here to Kateri is more than special. We've watched these young kids honour us. It's heartfelt."

Visit from mobile museum

Along with artwork, songs and poems presented by students, the branch also brought its mobile museum showcasing the community's military history, and a moment of silence took place for 10 soldiers from Kahnawake who died during the First World War, Second World War and Korean War.

Students had the opportunity to try on gear as part of the Royal Canadian Legion Mohawk Branch 219's mobile military museum. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

Kahnawake has a rich military history, with many men and women having served both in the Canadian and United States military. 

"For quite a while, both the United States and Canada didn't really acknowledge the contributions of our Aboriginal veterans," said Deer.

"It's changed. There's more emphasis on having us included. For us, it's a way that we can have a voice to say that we've defended both the United States and Canada in many conflicts."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.